Sunday, July 24, 2016

The uber-natural style of Az Agr Frank Cornelissen (Mt Etna, Sicily)

The foundation of the Frank Cornelissen style is non-intervention and this philosophy permeates every aspect of the estate's grape-growing and winemaking activities. The figure below attempts to capture the Cornelissen viticultural environment in a single place and, in the areas of fertilization and pest management, we see that philosophy clearly demonstrated.

Frank is so committed to letting nature take its course that he has sworn off the broadly accepted Mt Etna practices of monoculture and high planting density to interplant local fruit trees with vines in pursuit of a more complex ecosystem.

The core objective of Frank's viticultural regime is the production of grapes that lead to profound wines. The practices to promote this goal include: crop management through pruning; tailoring of bunches to concentrate sugar; handpicking of defective grapes; late harvests; and multiple passes through the vineyards to ensure harvesting of fully ripened grapes.

In the cellar, Frank does not add sulfur either to combat oxidation or to combat micro-organisms. Wines are fermented by indigenous yeasts in small, food-grade plastic tubs. To ensure vintage integrity, all yeasts resident in the cellar are killed prior to the start of wine production. Fermentation is conducted with yeasts brought in from the vineyards on the grapes.

Both white and red wines are fermented with skin contact. Red grapes are lightly pressed and then placed in large fiber glass containers, if destined for early bottling, or into epoxy-lined, underground amphoras for longer-aged wines.

Underground amphoras
After our discussion and tour of the cellar we tasted four of the Cornelissen wines beginning with the Munjebel bianco 2014. This white wine is made from 60% Grecanico Dorato and 40% Carricante. Unlike the majority of Etna producers, Frank does not see Carricante as the best grape for the region's white wines. He feel that it is too acidic. The grapes for this wine are grown on 40+-year-old vines grown in the Calderara soprano and Borriglione vineyards. A total of 4000 bottles of this wine is produced annually. This wine is amber in color, a result of fermentation on the skins. Florality, spice, and a savoriness on the nose. Savoriness flows through to the palate. A textured wine with great acidity and a long finish.

Our next wine tasted was the estate'e entry-level red wine, the Contadino 2014. This wine is made from 85% Nerello Mascalese with contributions from Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante Bouchet, Minella nero, Uva Francesca, and Minella bianco. This 24,000 bottle production is sourced from 50+ year vines grown in the Piccolo, Malpasso, Campo Re, Crasa, Piano Daine, and Porcaria vineyards. This wine is red-fruit dominant but has some blueberry notes. Rich and earthy. Structured.

The Munjebel rosso 2014 is a pure Nerello Mascalese from 60+ year vines grown on the Chiusa Spagnolo, Monte Colla, Porcaria, Barbabecchi, Rampante, Piano Daine, and Crasa vineyards. Red berry fruit and drying tannins. Rich and balanced.

The final wine tasted was the 2014 Munjebel Feudo di Mezzo, in this case an en primeur sample. Savory with a preponderance of black olives. Long, bitter finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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